Stacking the debate in favor of Giuliani

The popularity of presidential candidates in opinion polls at this stage of the campaign is almost completely a function of name-recognition or how much media coverage they have already received or purchased from the liberal media. Yet that is one of the unfair criteria that Fox News will use to select the Republican presidential candidates for a May 15 debate in South Carolina.

The arrangement could prevent a true conservative from emerging as a “serious candidate” in the GOP. It may also be designed to help frontrunner Rudy Giuliani, labeled a fake conservative by Terence P. Jeffrey of Human Events, get a virtual lock on the Republican presidential nomination.

Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corporation, the Fox News parent company, has close ties to Giuliani. Murdoch’s New York Post supported Giuliani’s candidacy for mayor of New York and Giuliani worked tirelessly to get carriage on the Time Warner cable system for Fox News. The New York Daily News obtained a 140-page campaign plan outlining Giuliani’s 2008 strategy for becoming president and it named Murdoch as one of his likely supporters. Donna Hanover Giuliani, one of Giuliani’s two ex-wives, worked for a television station owned by Murdoch.

One might think that the early Republican presidential debates would be designed to let Republican voters see and hear all of the registered and declared candidates. A May 3 debate, sponsored by MSNBC, the Reagan Library and Politico.com, will include 10 Republicans: Sam Brownback, Jim Gilmore, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Duncan Hunter, John McCain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Tom Tancredo and Tommy Thompson.

But the Fox News-sponsored debate on May 15 could exclude several of these candidates, on the grounds that because they don’t register high enough in the polls they are not “serious” candidates. Such a process is blatantly unfair, this early in the campaign, to those who have not benefited from favorable media attention and big business support. Some of the candidates are clearly counting on the debates to raise their standing in the polls and win Republican voters. But Fox News wants to deny them that opportunity to reach voters.

“Fox to Help Pick GOP Debate Participants” was the astonishing headline over an Associated Press article appearing on the Fox News website about the South Carolina debate. It began: “State Party chairman Katon Dawson and a spokesman for the news channel said Thursday that they had agreed on a criteria, including polling numbers, for choosing which of the 10 GOP candidates will take part in the May 15 debate.” It quoted Marty Ryan, executive producer of political programming for Fox News Channel, as saying that the polling criteria would ensure that “serious candidates were taking part in our debate.” But why should a news organization be in the position of deciding who is serious? Shouldn’t the voters make that decision after getting a full and fair opportunity to hear their views?

Reports indicate that the candidates will have to register at one percent in various polls before being invited to the debate. But as the AP story noted, “In a variety of national and state polls, seven of the 10 candidates hover around one percent or less.” Four candidates—Hunter, Tancredo, Paul, and Brownback—are at one percent in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. But it’s not clear this poll will be used to select the debate participants. The three top GOP candidates in the poll who stand to benefit the most from the Fox News decision are Giuliani (at 39 percent in the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll), McCain (24 percent) and Romney (12 percent).

Former Republican governor Jim Gilmore, who denounces the three Republican frontrunners by saying that “Rudy McRomney is not a conservative and he knows he is not a conservative,” doesn’t register at one percent and would be excluded.

Obviously, the Fox News debate criteria benefit Giuliani, who became a household name after 9/11; McCain, a media favorite for most of his career; and Romney, a former Massachusetts governor with a famous name who recently attracted national media attention for raising large amounts of campaign cash. But none of these candidates has a solid conservative record. Debates with conservative candidates could make this crystal clear and undermine the standing of the frontrunners in the polls. Why should Fox News be able to decide that Gilmore will not be permitted to participate in the debate and make his argument that the three frontrunners are not sufficiently conservative?

This is a form of censorship that should not be permitted. It is shocking that a news channel should be attempting to stifle debate.

Although Fox News is supposed to be the conservative channel, its decision to narrow the field means that, depending on the polls they use, conservatives such as Brownback, Gilmore, Huckabee, Hunter, Paul and Tancredo could all be excluded from the debate. Under the criteria at this point, only Giuliani, McCain and Romney seem assured of participating. That is a decision that harms the more conservative candidates, and Fox News has to know it.

There is still time, however, for conservatives to put pressure on the South Carolina Republican Party and Fox News to open up the process to the official and declared candidates. The South Carolina Republican Party is ultimately responsible and can be reached at 803-988-8440. For their part, candidates such as Giuliani, McCain and Romney should insist on the other candidates being included. That is, unless they want to be part of a process rigged by Fox News in their favor.

Fox News is usually a punching bag for those on the Democratic side, who claim that it has a conservative bias. Most of that rhetoric is bluff and bluster, designed to move the channel further to the left. This is the network, after all, which employs Wesley Clark and Harold Ford, Jr. as paid analysts and commentators and featured Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. as a correspondent on a one-sided program about global warming. Murdoch contributed financially to Hillary Clinton’s senate campaign and his New York Post newspaper endorsed her over a conservative Republican opponent.

Conservatives should be asking why this private news channel, whose parent company is staffed primarily by executives committed to Hillary Clinton, should have any role in picking the “serious” Republican candidates. Before the debate, which will be moderated by Fox News anchor Brit Hume, the South Carolina GOP will host its 2007 Silver Elephant Dinner featuring Fox News personality Sean Hannity. On May 19, more than 1,600 delegates will gather for the South Carolina Republican State Convention. You can bet Fox News will cover it, ready to proclaim and honor the most “serious” candidate to come out of the debate and proclaiming him the likely GOP standard-bearer. This will be a fiasco if Fox succeeds in excluding serious conservative Republican candidates.

Indeed, if the more conservative candidates are excluded from this debate, the odds increase that Giuliani, an advocate of abortion on demand and same-sex unions, will emerge from the debate and perhaps this southern state convention as the inevitable GOP presidential candidate. It may be impossible to stop him at that point.

If candidates like Tancredo, Hunter and Paul are excluded from the Fox News-sponsored South Carolina debate, the chances are greatly reduced that we will see Giuliani challenged about his liberal views on border control issues, particularly his commitment to a so-called “technological fence,” not a physical barrier, on our border with Mexico. Giuliani’s position, as outlined during a discussion with Sean Hannity on Fox News, was that “We need to be able to photograph people, observe them, see them, know who’s there, record them.” Whatever his intention and plan, it doesn’t look like a process designed to stop illegal aliens from getting into the U.S. Indeed, Giuliani says that we need “regularization for the people [illegal aliens] that are here.”

Asked if that meant amnesty, Giuliani replied, “It doesn’t mean amnesty. It means earning it.”

Commenting on this answer, Giuliani critic Terence Jeffrey said, “That’s George W. Bush-talk for: Yes, it does mean amnesty.”

The attempted coronation of Giuliani as the Republican presidential candidate, by stacking the South Carolina debate in his favor, is an abuse of media power. The South Carolina Republican Party has made a critical mistake in turning over the process to the cable channel.

If Republican conservatives want to take their country back, they better start by taking their presidential debate process out of the hands of a cable channel whose reputation as a “conservative” alternative to the liberal media is now seriously in doubt.

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Article written by Cliff Kincaid

Cliff Kincaid, a veteran journalist and media critic, Cliff concentrated in journalism and communications at the University of Toledo, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

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